Trump saw his convention as a potential success story. Reality intervened.
The announcement by President Trump that he was canceling the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Fla., next month was the most vivid evidence to date of how the Covid-19 pandemic and his mixed signals on the virus are upending the 2020 presidential contest.
Until Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump had been pushing for a crowded, festive convention, complete with a boisterous acceptance speech. He saw it as a celebration of his presidency and an instructive contrast to Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the Democratic Party, which have been moving toward a slimmed-down, mostly virtual convention in Milwaukee. It would show the Republican Party as tough in the face of this threat to the national well-being, focused on protecting the economy and returning life to normal — a statement as symbolic as the fight over wearing masks in public.
But at the end of the day, the pullback is not surprising, coming two days after Mr. Trump, in another reversal, endorsed the use of masks. The virus has been exploding across much of the South, and particularly in Florida.
The state has become, arguably, a case study in how not to deal with the virus, and that almost certainly would have been a running story for the thousands of reporters who would have come to Jacksonville to cover the convention. The state’s governor — Ron DeSantis, a Republican and vocal supporter of Mr. Trump — has resisted the kinds of actions, such as requiring masks or instituting stay-at-home-orders, that have been taken by other governors to try to bring the pandemic under control. Mr. DeSantis headed to the White House this afternoon for the signing of an executive order on drug prices before meeting with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff.
Life these days is about balancing risk and reward, and that applies to presidents and national political parties as well as ordinary citizens. Republican elected officials, donors and party members were all growing apprehensive about putting themselves at risk; some leading senators had already said they would skip it. The Democrats had decided the risk of a crowded convention outweighed the benefits that came from packing thousands of people into an arena for four days.
Mr. Trump’s decision came as a surprise to officials in Florida’s largest city, who spent 43 days insisting they could host the event, despite warnings from public health experts. The event would have been a rare moment in the sun for Jacksonville, a city often eclipsed by Atlanta and its Florida counterparts.
“The First Coast has always been very much the last coast in Florida politics and culture,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Florida political strategist who grew up in Gainesville, about 70 miles away. “They strive mightily and frequently come up short — and this would be another example of that.”
The R.N.C.’s Jacksonville experiment was painful. But at least it was short — and probably for the best, everyone agrees, in retrospect.
“They may have inadvertently dodged a bullet,” Mr. Stipanovich said.
Mr. Trump on Friday afternoon said he would sign four executive orders targeting the high price of prescription drugs in the United States, finalizing a proposal to tie the price that Medicare pays for some drugs to the lower prices that European countries and Canada pay.
“We are going to be getting massive drug savings in Florida and other states,” said Mr. Trump, speaking at a White House event. “We’re doing something that should have been done a long time ago.”
Populist outrage over rising drug prices has been a leading campaign issue for Republicans and Democrats alike, who before the pandemic were inundated with questions about them at town hall meetings. Consumers have been increasingly exposed to rising drug prices as insurers have imposed high deductibles and required people to pay a percentage of a drug’s list price.
The orders, which alone cannot change policy, revives pledges made as far back as his 2016 campaign to tackle prescription drug costs, even if it means beating back opposition by the pharmaceutical industry and his own political party. In 2018, Democrats promised to curb drug costs, an argument that helped the party flip suburban swing districts and win control of the House.
Aware of the political dynamics, the president didn’t miss an opportunity to take a shot at his presidential rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., accusing the “Obama-Biden” administration with failing to make progress on reducing costs.
But the orders come at a delicate time. Mr. Trump has placed billions of dollars in bets that giant drugmakers like Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson will deliver coronavirus treatments and vaccines in time to save his faltering re-election campaign. He needs those companies to produce results, even as he is attacking them on the price of their other products. During his event, Mr. Trump touted the progress being made by the drugmakers.
The centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s executive orders, called an “international pricing index,” ties the price that Medicare pays for drugs administered by hospitals or in doctors’ offices to prices negotiated by European governments. Mr. Trump has called for such a system since 2018, railing against drug companies for ripping off Americans.
“Americans pay more so that other countries can pay less,” Mr. Trump said when he first proposed it.
But the proposal has sputtered in the face of resistance from the pharmaceutical industry and Republican lawmakers, and infighting among federal health officials. Conservative critics of the index have viewed it as a form of price fixing.
The orders reflect the president’s own frustrations that the United States consistently pays higher prices for drugs than the governments of peer countries. They also come with irony, just days after the Trump administration signed a $1.95 billion contract with Pfizer as part of the administration’s crash vaccine development program, called “Operation Warp Speed.”
Trump’s new campaign manager says polls are flawed and that ‘we don’t pay very much attention to them.’
The new campaign manager for Mr. Trump’s re-election effort spent much of his first briefing focused on polling — from four years ago.
Bill Stepien, who took the helm of the campaign operation last week, argued to reporters on a Friday afternoon briefing call that public polling about the race showing Mr. Trump at a steep deficit is flawed. Running through slides focused on each battleground state, Mr. Stepien displayed polls from the 2016 race showing Hillary Clinton leading in states eventually won by Mr. Trump.
He insisted the campaign still has multiple paths to 270 electoral votes, arguing Mr. Trump could expand the number of states in play for Republicans.
“We don’t pay very much attention to them,” Mr. Stepien said of several dozen public polls. He argued that some of the most respected university and media survey-takers were undercounting Republicans in their polls. He also boasted of the number of organizers Mr. Trump has had on the ground in key states for more than a year, who so far overshadow efforts for Mr. Biden.
He went on to suggest that Democrats are leaving their party because of the left-leaning bent of figures like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that they’re coming to Mr. Trump’s side, something that public polling doesn’t reflect.
Then he went state by state, describing North Carolina as positive (“I feel pretty good about North Carolina”) and Florida as improving (“Our band is getting back together”). He said that there have been voter registration switches in states that have been unaccounted for in the public polling.
“These trends are going to go unnoticed until election night when we’re right and they’re wrong,” Mr. Stepien said.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the presidential race, prompting a sharp downturn in a voter opinion of Mr. Trump. In recent weeks, public polling has shown Mr. Biden with a commanding advantage in the race for the White House — an edge that shows no sign of abating.
Mr. Biden has held a nearly double-digit lead in an average of polls for more than a month. The last time a candidate sustained such a large advantage for so long was nearly 25 years ago, when Bill Clinton led Bob Dole in 1996.
Mr. Biden is leading or in a dead-heat with Mr. Trump in nearly all the key battleground states. On Friday, the Cook Political Report moved their rating of Florida from toss-up to leans Democratic, a notable switch in a state that’s been fiercely contested by both parties for more than two decades.
Biden steps up warnings that Trump may try to ‘steal’ the election.
Mr. Biden, who for months has argued that President Trump may seek to interfere in the presidential election results, issued one of his sharpest warnings yet this week.
“This president is going to try to indirectly steal the election by arguing that mail-in ballots don’t work,” the presumptive Democratic nominee said at a fund-raiser Thursday night, according to a pool report. “‘They’re not real,’” he said Mr. Trump would argue. “‘They’re not fair.’”
The remark capped an extraordinary week in which both presidential candidates sought to lay down markers on critical questions around election legitimacy, taking two sharply divergent approaches.
Mr. Biden and his campaign issued stark warnings about foreign interference in the election and lambasted Mr. Trump’s approach to foreign meddling.
“He knew full well of Russian involvement in the election in ’16,” he said at another fund-raiser. “He’s done nothing. He sought help.”
Representatives for the Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Mr. Trump, for his part, repeatedly decried voting by mail — a view that stands in contrast to many Republicans who embrace the practice — and he refused to commit to accepting the election results during an interview Sunday with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, an approach that may be aimed at sowing doubts about the outcome of the election should he lose.
Taken together, the statements reflect a dark phase of the presidential campaign in which there is no shared agreement on even the most fundamental tenets of American democracy.
Suppose Biden wins big in November. What would the effects be?
Recent national polls show that Mr. Biden’s commanding lead has eroded longstanding demographic divisions that have favored Republicans, Nate Cohn writes for The Upshot.
This development has endangered the G.O.P.’s hold on states where Democrats usually have little chance to prevail in federal elections, even Republican strongholds like Kansas or Alaska.
Remarkably, Mr. Trump’s lead among white voters has all but vanished. On average, he holds just a three-point lead among white voters, 48 percent to 45 percent, across an average of high-quality telephone surveys since June 1. His lead among white voters has steadily diminished since April.
Over the last two decades, Republican strength among white voters has given the party structural advantages in the House, the Senate and the Electoral College. A competitive race among white voters would deprive Republicans of those advantages, threatening carefully devised gerrymanders in House races and raising the specter of previously unimagined losses in the Senate.
Mr. Trump still has plenty of time to close the gap with Mr. Biden. But with Mr. Biden’s lead enduring well into a second month amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic, it’s worth considering the potential consequences of a decisive Biden victory.
To illustrate, we took the results of the 2016 election by demographic group and calculated what would happen if those groups backed Mr. Trump at the levels shown in recent polls. Mr. Biden would fight to within single digits in traditional red states like Alaska, Utah, South Carolina, Indiana, Montana, Missouri and Kansas. And notably, he would win by nine to 10 points in the three Northern battleground states that decided the last election: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Fact Check: Trump’s claims in battleground states.
While many of Mr. Trump’s more incendiary falsehoods — his many misleading remarks about the coronavirus and his baseless attacks on election integrity — have received widespread attention, some of his more localized claims also require scrutiny.
What Mr. Trump said:
During a town hall event in Scranton, Pa., in March, Mr. Trump said that the city and the state “had the lowest and best unemployment numbers” ever, and he told attendees at a rally in Phoenix, “Arizona, you’ve had the best year, the most successful year you’ve ever had in the history of the country.”
Exaggerated. Mr. Trump overreached with these claims. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania reached 4.1 percent in 2018, higher than the 4.0 percent rate in the first few months of 2000. In the Scranton area, it reached 4.4 percent in 2018, also higher than the 4.1 percent in September 2000. Arizona’s unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent January, while the recorded low was 3.6 percent in June and July 2007.
What Mr. Trump said:
“I love saying it because we are funding, for New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Army National Guard readiness centers just a few miles from here, in Pembroke and in Concord,” Mr. Trump said during a campaign rally in the state in February.
In addition, Mr. Trump devoted 10 tweets in May to various transit projects that had received funding from the Transportation Department, five of which were in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But he failed to note that the projects were part of the Capital Investment Grant program, which is authorized and structured by Congress.
The stock market chatter this summer has often been dominated by worries about the prospects of a Biden presidency.
The logic was simple: Corporate taxes might rise, and that would hamper profits. But that’s perhaps too simple, as a new report from BofA Global Research argued.
The report said that once the market had gotten over its reflexive distaste for a Democratic victory, a Biden win could be a boon for both stocks and the economy.
For example, a Biden administration would likely mean a steadier and more vigorous handling of the coronavirus crisis and a more open approach to international trade, the report said.
Those conclusions run counter to the narrative promoted by Mr. Trump, who has frequently boasted that the stock market and the economy have flourished under his stewardship and has warned of serious trouble if he were to lose in November.
This isn’t the first time the stock market has shuddered at the thought of a Democratic presidency. Yet the historical record shows that since 1900 the stock market has fared far better under Democratic presidents, with a 6.7 percent annualized return for the Dow Jones industrial average compared with just 3.5 percent under Republicans.
And despite all the hoopla about Mr. Trump’s undoubtedly pro-business policies, the stock market performance under Mr. Trump doesn’t match up well against the presidencies of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. It is possible that the same would be true if Mr. Biden became president.
The National Rifle Association has made its first advertising buy of the 2020 election, spending more than $3.5 million across four states for the final two weeks of August, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.
The group is focusing on Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, with the biggest reservations in Pennsylvania at $1.4 million.
Though it has been quiet on the airwaves this election, the National Rifle Association was one of the staunchest backers of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. As the two super PACs supporting Mr. Trump spent less than $25 million each in the election, the N.R.A. spent more than $30 million backing the president.
And as the N.R.A. has struggled, gun control groups have surged. The 2018 midterms marked the first time they outspent the N.R.A.
The trend could continue in 2020. Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group backed by Michael R. Bloomberg, has pledged to spend at least $60 million in the 2020 election. On Thursday, it announced a $15 million digital advertising effort, targeting both vulnerable Republican senators and state legislatures, as well as ads that will support Mr. Biden.
The National Rifle Association declined to comment on its advertising buy.
In Washington, at least, Senate Republicans have started distancing themselves from Trump.
As Senate Republicans’ grip on their majority teeters while the president’s political standing plummets, their fate could well be determined by their ability to produce a sweeping pandemic recovery package before the election.
But their frantic attempts to do so have so far produced little more than deep division in their ranks and with Mr. Trump — not the place they wanted to be 100 days out from a decisive race.
Their uncertain fortunes appear to have stiffened Republicans’ resolve to do something they rarely try: distance themselves, however gingerly, from Mr. Trump. They have jettisoned the president’s call for a payroll tax cut, drawing a resentful response from him on Twitter.
They rejected the administration’s plan to omit money for coronavirus testing — an effort many senior Republicans see as crucial to reopening the country and stabilizing the economy — and to defund schools that fail to resume in-person classes in the fall.
Republicans said they were nearing agreement on a $1 trillion package that would be introduced on Monday, but the tortured process that they went through to get there has weakened their negotiating hand relative to Democrats, who are pressing for a $3 trillion plan. And it has dramatized the growing divergence between their interests and Mr. Trump’s instincts.
Even as they privately haggled over the aid bill on Thursday, Republicans publicly defied Mr. Trump on another matter, voting for the annual military policy bill that he has threatened to veto over its requirement that the Pentagon rename bases named for Confederate figures. Many Republicans believed his stance was out of step with public opinion amid a nationwide conversation about racism in the United States.
Ever since Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress as the youngest woman elected to the House, she has upended traditions, harnessing the power of social media and challenging leaders, including Mr. Trump, who are many decades her senior.
On Thursday, she took to the House floor to read into the Congressional Record a sexist vulgarity that Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, had used to refer to her.
“In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me, and I quote: ‘A fucking bitch,’” she said. “These are the words Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman.”
Then Ms. Ocasio-Cortez invited a group of Democratic women in the House to come forward to express solidarity with her. One by one, they shared their own stories of harassment and mistreatment by men, including in Congress. More even than the profanity uttered on the House floor, where language is carefully regulated, what unfolded over the next hour was a remarkable moment of cultural upheaval on Capitol Hill.
“It happens every day in this country,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol.” And then, in an unmistakable shot at Mr. Trump, she added, “It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us.”
Congressional leaders announced Thursday that Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a civil rights icon, would lie in state next week in the Capitol Rotunda, one of the highest American honors, before a viewing for the public to be held outside.
With the Capitol closed to the public because of the pandemic, Mr. Lewis will spend only a few hours lying in state under the Capitol dome after an invitation-only ceremony on Monday afternoon, according to plans released by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.
Afterward, his coffin will be moved outside to the top of the Capitol steps, and members of the public will be able to line up — with masks required and social distancing enforced — to view it from the plaza below on Monday evening and all day Tuesday, the leaders said in a joint statement.
Mr. Lewis, a 17-term congressman from Georgia and the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, died last week after battling pancreatic cancer. He was known as the “conscience of the Congress” for his moral authority acquired through years of protest for racial equality — including when he was brutally beaten during voting rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., in 1965 and across the Jim Crow South.
Last year, Representative Elijah E. Cummings became the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Capitol. It is an honor that has been afforded to more than 40 individuals, most recently including Mr. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
A Nashville surgeon running for Senate gets a boost from Ted Cruz at a rally, but a mask mandate is not followed.
He’s a doctor who is holding public campaign rallies, eschewing masks, and running as a pro-Trump candidate, but without the president’s endorsement.
Manny Sethi, the conservative Nashville trauma surgeon vying in a crowded G.O.P. primary to replace the retiring Senator Lamar Alexander, got a boost Friday when Senator Ted Cruz arrived in Tennessee to join campaign rallies in several cities for him.
Mr. Cruz appeared at a campaign rally Friday morning in Jonesborough wearing a mask upon arrival, according to a video posted on Facebook by the local TV station WJHL, but Mr. Sethi’s face was fully exposed as he shook hands with those in attendance, many of whom were flouting a local Washington County mandate requiring masks in public.
A day earlier, Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths had reached new highs in Tennessee, where citizens were generally noncompliant with admonitions by health officials to wear face coverings, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
Running as a conservative who will roll back Obamacare, Mr. Sethi also has the endorsement of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
In an era of self-funded candidates, Mr. Sethi, the son of physicians who immigrated to the United States from India, has joined those relying partly on a personal fortune, loaning his campaign $1.9 million.
But he’s just one of the candidates in the Tennessee Senate race who have tapped millions from their own accounts.
The biggest spender, the businessman and former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, who is endorsed by Trump, took out a $2.5 million bank loan to help promote his campaign.
And yet another doctor, the Memphis radiologist George Flinn, also dug into his own piggy bank. Mr. Flinn is running as an un-Trump candidate, pledging to challenge the president when he makes bad decisions.
In all, 12 Republicans, five Democrats and nine independents are running for the Senate seat, with primary voting Aug. 6.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Luke Broadwater, Nate Cohn, Nick Corasaniti, Catie Edmondson, Lisa Lerer, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Katie Glueck, Carl Hulse, Margot Sanger-Katz, Patricia Mazzei, Jesse McKinley, Adam Nagourney, Linda Qiu, Giovanni Russonello, Stephanie Saul, Jeff Sommer , Katie Thomas and Noah Weiland.